SUNDERLAND are unassailable in their position as the northeast’s top club – the relegation of Middlesbrough and Newcastle last season took care of that – so new targets and aspirations are needed at the Stadium of Light.
It is, however, fair to say that 10th place after a home draw with the league’s resident basket case falls some distance short of the expectations of a club bankrolled by Ellis Short’s millions.
One bright spot for the Black Cats faithful will have been the vibrant and ambitious performance of Nyron Nosworthy and the full-back believes the fact that the fans now have such high expectations is proof in itself of the Wearsiders’ progress.
After two seasons of struggle just to maintain their top-flight status, Nosworthy admits the current sense of frustration is a measure of how far they have come since owner Short and chairman Niall Quinn handed the reins to Steve Bruce during the summer.
“It’s fantastic and it’s great testament to everyone who has been at the club and backed the club,” said Nosworthy. “The chairman has had a vision and he has come in and said we want to push for the top 10 and be in there pushing for a Europa League place.
“Right now, his belief has pushed everyone else on. The support has been fantastic and now the club is moving forward with momentum, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
There was little beautiful, however, about the way Sunderland allowed victory to be wrenched from their grasp at the death as Portsmouth gave themselves further hope of escaping the drop after last weekend’s win over Burnley.
The Wearsiders dominated much of the game and, having taken a 23rd-minute lead through Darren Bent’s 10th goal of the season, had ample opportunity to kill it off, only for Younes Kaboul to stab home from four yards with the match deep into injury-time. Cue semi-naked celebrations that saw the goal-scorer dismissed.
The point was not enough to lift the south-coast side from the foot of the table, but it at least gave new manager Avram Grant hope.
“I am very, very happy with what we have shown in the last two games because we know how to play football. There is no team in our area that plays better than us,” said Grant. “But to take points, we need to show more intelligence and more spirit and more belief in our game, and we showed that in the second half.”
While the Israeli’s strugglers face a daunting trip to Chelsea on Wednesday, Sunderland entertain in-form Aston Villa Tuesday in what may prove to be a far more pernicious test of their credentials than this draw. Regardless, the bolshie Nosworthy says he and his team-mates will go into the game with the attitude that the three points are theirs to lose.
“We are making good progress and that willingness everyone has to win has set the standard pretty high. We have put the pressure on ourselves in terms of putting on good performances and beating big teams. We have put that on ourselves because we know we are capable of doing that.
“That’s a good pressure, people not going into games saying, ‘We have got Aston Villa here, we will take a draw’. That’s a negative, we want to be more positive, we are saying, ‘We want to win and we want to win in style’.”
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent) 6: While some of the eight yellow cards may be down to excessive fussiness the letter of the law left Bennett with no option but to dismiss Kaboul when he removed his shirt.
MATCH RATING: *** Portsmouth were poor and Sunderland profligate. Kaboul’s sucker-punch supplied an uninspiring match a much-needed twist.
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